By offering a Ph.D. in Law Aimed At Aspiring Academics, Yale Just Made It Harder to Aspire to Academia

July 11th, 2012

Oh Yale. It is really, really tough to get a teaching job at a law school. In recent years, it has become even more difficult because schools have started to (kinda) require that students have, in addition to  JD, additional qualifications, such as a VAP, Fellowship, or advanced degree–usually an LLM, which takes one year, or a Ph.D. in some other discipline (economics, political science, etc.). All of these requirements raise the bar, and make it tougher for aspiring academics to land a job. All of these requirements are costly both in terms of tuition (going to school isn’t free, even with a tuition waiver and stipend) and opportunity cost (pursuing these options which will *only* help you get an academic job may not be worth it if you don’t get the job).

Now Yale has upped the ante. They offer a Ph.D. Program in law. Other schools will no doubt offer these as well. And now, this will be the new required standard to be a law prof.

Now, you may say shouldn’t law professors have a Ph.D.? Well, this certainly helps to train in theoretical aspects of law, but such degrees will make it all but impossible for practicing attorneys to teach. Taking three years off to get a degree? I don’t think so. This move will, ultimately, further the gap between practice and the academy. (Yes, I realize that I didn’t practice. I don’t view myself as an ideal candidate for academia).

I wonder what percentage of profs will have a Ph.D. in law in 20 years?

Update: Yikes, Brian Leiter asks if this is the “worst idea in the history of legal education?”

 So what this new program will really be is some combination of resume polishing and an opportunity for people interested in law teaching to have an opportunity to write–in the latter regard, it will be a somewhat longer Fellowship than the two-year ones which are now quite common. A Ph.D. it won’t be, however, and it’s inconceivable, given the lack of an actual Wissenschaft the program is meant to instill, that it will confer the advantages that JD/PhDs in cognate subjects have as scholars and on the teaching market.  But as a three-year writing Fellowship, fully funded by Yale at this point, it will no doubt be attractive for those who want to go into law teaching but don’t want to earn a real PhD.